John Banks appeared for sentence this morning at the Auckland High Court and received two months’ Community Detention and 100 hours Community Work. A copy of the judgment is attached here). I’d been waiting for the news that his application for a discharge without conviction had been declined, but, as it happened, no application ended up being advanced.
To my mind, Mr Banks got off lightly. I hadn’t been expecting a jail sentence, but I’d been hoping for one. Banks was found by the High Court to have taken deliberate steps to hide the source of donations. We have laws requiring the disclosure of certain donations because of the risk of corruption, and Banks’ actions were a slap to the face of transparency and New Zealand’s reputation as a relatively corruption-free country. I don’t care that Banks didn’t actually end up helping Dotcom (and in fact dropped him like a hot potato when he needed Banks’ help, leading to Dotcom’s crusade against Banks). His actions were still a direct attack on democratic transparency, in circumstances that he knew were illegal and which involved a high level of premeditation. The Court had previously found as a fact that Banks told Dotcom that he would not be able to help him in the future if his name was recorded in the electoral return.
The Judge adopted a starting point of six months’ imprisonment, with a discount of two months for mitigating factors, including prior good character and a record of public service. It was therefore open to the Judge to look at sentences of Home Detention and Community Detention, with His Honour deciding that Community Detention was the least restrictive sentence that could be imposed.
I’d have to disagree that Mr Banks’ record of public service should be considered as a mitigating factor. To my mind, it should almost be an aggravating factor – Banks has been around long enough to know what was right and wrong in terms of electoral finance laws.
Of course, Mr Banks still doesn’t accept that he’s done anything wrong. In fact, he’s announced that he’ll be appealing his conviction:
“Since the finding of guilt fresh, new, unimpeachable, water-tight evidence has emerged. That new evidence completely contradicts much of the evidence given in the court in front of the judge on which I was convicted,” Banks said.
“We’re looking forward to taking that … to the Court of Appeal and in the process of time, that will completely exonerate me of these charges.”
All I can say is that it will have to be some quite extraordinary evidence to overcome this from the original judgment:
He [Mr Towers] said that Mr Banks told him that as much as he wished to publically [sic] support Mr Dotcom, it might backfire on Mr Dotcom if “it b/comes known about election support etc”. Mr Towers recorded this comment in a contemporaneous file note. He was confident that he had recorded the words that were spoken to him as best as he could. There was no evidence of Mr Dotcom having provided any other “election support” for Mr Banks. … I was satisfied that the discussion recorded in the file note could only have been a reference to the $50,000 donation by Mr Dotcom to Mr Banks’ 2010 mayoral campaign. In my view, Mr Towers’ evidence, and the file note, was compelling evidence, from a witness whose testimony was unimpeachable, that Mr Banks knew that the donations had, in fact, been made by Mr Dotcom.
Nonetheless, the circus that is John Banks seems destined to put on a few more shows, with or without public demand for tickets.